The Intercept Will Support NSA Leaker’s Legal Defense

Reality Winner/Social Media via REUTERS

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

The Intercept, the website co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, announced on Tuesday that it will provide financial support to the legal defense of Reality Winner, the National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking a Top Secret report to the website.

Intercept editor-in-chief Betsy Reed said in a statement that First Look Media, the parent company of The Intercept, will “provide funding for the engagement” of a law firm to support Winner’s attorneys at the Augusta, Ga.-based Bell & Brigham. (RELATED: Reality Winner Is A Bernie Supporter Who ‘Resists’ Trump)

First Look Media will also donate $50,000 in matching funds through its Press Freedom Defense Fund to a crowd-funding campaign called Stand With Reality.

Winner, 25, was arrested at her home in Augusta on June 3, several days after The Intercept contacted the NSA about a report that had been sent to the news outlet anonymously a month earlier.

The report, which is classified as Top Secret, laid out evidence showing that the Russian government attempted to hack into voting systems in numerous U.S. states. The Intercept published its report on June 5, and Winner’s arrest was announced by the Justice Department hours later.

The Intercept was heavily criticized for its handling of the leaked documents. The outlet was accused of failing to protect Winner.

Though Winner’s identity was not known to The Intercept, Reed acknowledged in her statement that the site “fell short” of its standards for protecting sources.

“At several points in the editorial process, our practices fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves for minimizing the risks of source exposure when handling anonymously provided materials,” she said.

“This process carries some risks of source exposure that are impossible to mitigate when dealing with sensitive materials. Nonetheless, it is clear that we should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us.”

Reed claims that Winner is a whistleblower, a characterization that the U.S. government and many national security experts have disputed.

Winner, a former Air Force linguist who held a Top Secret security clearance, did not go through authorized channels that government agencies have set up for whistleblowers. She also allegedly stole the report on May 7, just two days after the NSA released it internally.

But Reed maintains the the First Amendment, and not the Espionage Act under which Winner is being prosecuted, “should be the framework for viewing the act of whistleblowing.”

“We at The Intercept have always opposed the use of the Espionage Act against government whistleblowers,” she said.

But Bradley Moss, an attorney who handles national security cases, says that the First Amendment has never been recognized by courts as the basis for a whistleblowing defense.

“The idea that there is a First Amendment right to leak properly classified information to the media has never been and, quite honestly, will never be accepted by the courts,” Moss told The Daily Caller.

“There simply is no legal basis for the conclusion that an individual clearance holder has a constitutional right to provide classified information to individuals who are not authorized to receive it.”

Follow Chuck on Twitter